January 27, 2014

Meeting Customer Expectations At the dawn of a new year there’s lots of talk about new devices, new technologies, new tactics and new trends. But there’s not much talk about evolving customer expectations, which, to a large degree, determine how all these new things are perceived or received. Consumers hold fundamental attitudes about brands that don’t change much over time, even while the channels they use to interact evolve. Consumers have existing brand relationships and are generally willing to trade data for convenience, utility or deals. They expect the brands they care about to care back. Brand loyalists insist that the relationship must be two-way, respectful and interactive. Consumers have a point of view and expect to be heard -- explicitly when they choose to act and implicitly when they call, click, visit or buy. To meet and capitalize on these baseline expectations, focus on these 3 fundamental expectations. Always be Available. Sam Walton was right. Brands need to be there whenever and however customers want to buy. This means having a 24/7 presence in the channels or on the devices your customers use most. And while not every channel or medium makes sense for every brand, being available, offering several contact options, making it easy to click, download, print, chat or buy are table stakes. Understanding what each segment needs and providing an 800# or other retro, but highly effective tools, is part and parcel of this expectation. Enable Preference Setting. Customers want it their way. A nation of gamers is used to setting the level and choosing from an array of options. Brands need to abandon the one-size-fits-all super cost efficient model in favor of giving customers the option to specify the content they want, the format they want it in and the delivery channel and frequency they prefer. All the research shows that brands that deliver against variable customer preferences drive significant spikes in customer satisfaction, incremental sales and brand loyalty. Once set, customers expect brands to adhere to preferences and use them to personalize relevant messages. Your best customers, like your best friends, assume that the relationship is dynamic and cumulative over time. They expect brands to pay attention and to use cues from the conversation or their actions to advance intimacy. They expect that purchase and activity history will inform branded communications and become filters to curate the messages and offers they receive. This assumption makes re-targeting tolerable and even appreciated. But the flipside is equally true. Sending irrelevant, untimely or out-of-context messages will sour things quickly. Listen & Respond. Loyal customers pay attention to and care about favorite brands the way family members care about each other. They have opinions about brand posture, products, services, prices, competitors and people. And they aren’t bashful about expressing them to the brand directly and by broadcasting them in social media. Consumers expect brands to celebrate and shout out positive feedback and to jump on complaints and customer service issues quickly and efficiently. Everyone is a critic or a consumer advocate in two clicks. Understanding consumers’ need to have a say is as important as providing them with the best possible product set. So, before you get carried away with the latest social or mobile trend or ad unit, recalibrate your marketing plan to align with these fundamental expectations. The investment will pay off in spades.
Engagement Planning Evolves The confluence of digital, mobile and social media with big data offers the possibility of addressing, targeting and engaging audiences and segments differently than ever before. Rather than try to psyche out prospects and target them by media use, careful analysis of consumer cohorts can suggest more organic, natural and genuine ways to reach and persuade prospects. The difference is that rather than guess what a target audience is thinking and doing, we can now track them and either document or reasonably infer attitudes, mechanics and behavior. This requires thinking about what people do, think or relate to and what devices they use throughout a day or a week or a month. By building sophisticated profiles and personas of discrete audiences, we can create more resonant messages and deliver them at times and on devices or social platforms that are integral to customers’ normal behavior. Advertising no longer has to be a disruptive intrusion. Ads can become a useful value-add that inspires purchase and brand loyalty. Consider the proverbial Soccer Mom. On a generic level, she’s 25-44, CFO of the household with a static and often stretched income. Chief decision-maker and principal shopper for a broad array of products and services, her smartphone is her life controller and her tablet is the source of “me time” entertainment, education and diversion. She probably works and is also the scheduler, driver and concierge for her kids. Her partner, her employer, her kids, her friends, neighbors, girlfriends and family plus every marketer wants her time, attention and budget. But there are many flavors of Soccer Mom. Geography, ethnicity, health and education are variables that affect her outlook, coping or management style and preferences. To persuade her, layer in her taste in music, movies, books, games, food, décor, fashion and hobbies. First time moms have more energy, anxiety and information-seeking needs than moms of multiple kids. Lean-in moms think and act differently than traditional moms or moms who are also care givers for elderly parents. Triathlete or yoga moms have different agendas and priorities, as do moms of kids with ADHD. Aggregating a wide range of data about moms, enables marketers to slice and dice the generic audience into discrete segments which can be addressed on their own terms in ways that authentically fit into their lifestyles and expectations. This engagement planning methodology blends traditional attitudinal market research with behavioral data to produce a richer, more insightful and practical picture of customers and prospects. Understanding how real people think and act in real time drives a different way to attack creative development and media planning. A data-rich multi-dimensional, channel neutral perspective is the next big thing for savvy marketers and advertisers.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

The Typepad Team

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